Nov. 7, 2008

Jobs: 'Last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night,' Skorton tells second forum

"I'm going to be looking carefully and skeptically at anything that says, 'We need to spend a little more money to get this done,' at a time when I'm worried about people's jobs," President David Skorton said Nov. 6 in a second public forum on the university's cost-saving measures. "That's the first thing on my mind when I get up in the morning, and the last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night."

While pledging -- as he had at the first forum Nov. 5 -- to maintain university jobs, he noted that the administration will assess future spending, including expenditures that would save money in the long run, in the context of how they would affect Cornell's workforce.

Speaking to a half-filled Statler Auditorium, he said that non-faculty staff will get as much job protection and attention as faculty. "We will not get through this period simply by balancing the budget on the backs of the non-faculty employees. There have already been layoffs. But we're doing a lot of creative things to minimize the dislocation and disruption of people's livelihoods."

Skorton outlined the four principles that he and senior leaders are using to grapple with Cornell's economic situation: a review of operations, engagement with the Cornell community, and pauses in external hires and construction. He urged the Cornell community to submit ideas online at http://assembly.cornell.edu/Suggestions/BudgetStrategies.

"Give us ideas -- some specific examples," Skorton said. "We'll put them on the table."

A member of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning asked how the economic downturn might affect the capital campaign and other philanthropy. Skorton said that giving will continue to go up in the next few years, with increases projected in the endowment and in direct-cash giving. "But the rate of increase will be much, much slower."

Another audience member asked if the administration will consider admitting additional students as a way to pump up tuition revenue. That option is being considered, Skorton said. But he pointed out that increasing the student body means greater expenditures for classes, housing and other needs.

When a freshman asked if her financial aid package would remain intact, he assured her that it would -- and that it might even increase, as he had mentioned in his recent State of the University address. "Tell your friends," he said. "I'm for real up here."